After nine months on the backpacker trail in South America, Neil and I have rented apartments five times in cities that include Montevideo, Lima, and Buenos Aires twice. In general we were very happy with the results. We had privacy, a kitchen, high speed WIFI, and often cable TV as well. Though we have also done our fair share of room rentals and home stays, renting an entire apartment or loft gave us time to write and cook homemade meals from local grocers.
Savvy travelers should keep in mind a few things when leasing apartments in which they have never stepped foot. The phrase “buyer beware” applies in the world of vacation apartment rentals. Here’s what we have learned:
Do your research before renting the apartment
You can type in “apartment rental” on any search engines and a myriad of companies will pop up, ready to take your deposit on the latest Paris loft overlooking the Eiffel Tower. But question the source. Before you put down the cash, search for bad business practices. I use the search term “scam” plus whatever the company name is. Flip through the first few result pages and see what dirt you can scrounge up.
Is the owner on site? Or is there a manager?
Often the manager will not live onsite for properties in big cities or in huge high rises. The owner is a business person, renting several flats as his mainstream revenue. So sometimes, the owner will be the one checking you in and following up. Other times there will be a manager hired to respond to your needs.
What fees are not included?
Best case scenario: an apartment will come with weekly maid service, 24-hour security or doorman, furniture, kitchen appliances, towels, WIFI, local telephone use, cable TV, air conditioning, heating, and parking. Run through this list with the owner/manager. Get everything in writing.
What’s in the immediate vicinity?
Especially if you will be reliant on public transport, the apartment should be within a few blocks of subways, trains, and bus stops. Even better, your vacation rental should have a grocery store and laundromat nearby too. Ask to see a map or get a list of the things to do in the
neighborhood. Bars, restaurants, and parks all add to memorable travel moments.
What are the guidelines for deposit?
In small rented rooms, I usually didn’t have to pay a deposit. For bigger apartments– for example in Buenos Aires when we rented a two bedroom, two and a half bathroom– we forked over $500 with a contract agreement that it would be returned via airbnb.com within 24 hours after checkout if the owner did not report any damages. This is optimal.
Don’t Be Shy, Ask for Discounts on Longer Stays
If you are staying for more than a few days, ask for a discount. Sometimes, they will say “no”. Other times, they will take 10% off just to secure your booking. But once in a while, especially if you are paying for a month long stay, you can catch a big break. Once, I found a beautiful renovated apartment in the city center for US$70 per night. I asked for a discount and got a few bucks off. Then, I added that I could rent the apartment for 22 days (and pay in cash) but could only afford US$35 per night. I didn’t think he’d accept but got a response within 24 hours. He took the bid and we moved into one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city.
Arrange Times for Check In and Check Out
Often check in times are flexible but must be arranged beforehand. The owner has to plan for someone to meet you or for the doorman to let you in. Check out is often an issue for us. We had late overnight bus especially in Peru and Argentina. So at times owners let us stay late into the day. Make sure there is no extra fee for this service.
Overall, these are the main issues that I try to get out in the open when renting an apartment on vacation. So far I’ve been really happy with the results. We’d also add that when you check in, get your computer online before the manager leaves and check the rooms for any damage that may be pinned on you later. If you find something wrong, bring it to the manager’s attention immediately. Apartments require a bit more legwork in terms of research but there is nothing better than arriving in a big city and knowing that you have a fully-loaded apartment rental to call home.